In mid-November, Union coach Rick Bennett broke up the forward line of center Jeremy Welsh, left winger Daniel Carr and right winger Josh Jooris for a couple of weeks because he didn’t think they were playing as a unit.
Bennett put them back together a couple of weeks later. The trio learned its lesson.
Friday night, Carr, Jooris and Welsh helped put the Dutchmen within reach of an ECAC Hockey tournament title by combining for four goals and five assists and powering the top-seeded and sixth-ranked Dutchmen to a 6-2 victory over Colgate in the semifinal at Boardwalk Hall.
The Dutchmen (23-7-7) will face No. 3 seed Harvard in the championship game tonight at 7:30 after the latter dispatched Cornell, 6-1. It’s the second time in three years Union has reached the final, having lost to Cornell in 2010.
Union is seeking to become the first top-seeded team to win the tournament title since Yale in 2009. The win just about assures the Dutchmen of at least an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, having entered the day sixth in the Pairwise Rankings. It would be Union’s second straight appearance in the NCAAs.
Carr scored twice, Jooris had a goal and three assists and Welsh added a goal and two assists.
“As I [said] before, that was just a great coaching decision halfway through the year to break them up,” Bennett said with tongue firmly planted in his cheek. “They had a whale of a game tonight. They played very hard. They executed what they had to execute.”
One of the reasons the Dutchmen won their first ECACH regular-season title last year is because Carr, Jooris and Welsh combined for 45 goals and 61 assists. But they were out of sync early this season, so Bennett decided to separate them.
“Things weren’t exactly working out,” Welsh said. “It was just some chemistry issues. I don’t think that each of us, individually, were doing thing that made us successful last year like getting in on the forecheck, moving our feet and getting over pucks.
“When we came back together, we were in this together. We just helped each other through our individual slumps. We’ve ridden it out each other since then.”
Jooris was happy that Bennett put them back together.
“We lost a little of our mojo at the start of the year,” Jooris said. “I knew we would get it back. Those guys are great to play with.”
Carr believed Bennett made the right decisions to break them up, and put them back together.
“The three of us combined weren’t doing things to produce offensively,” Carr said. “When we got back together, things started to click like the start of last year. We kept it simple, got pucks to the net, and good things were happening.”
It didn’t take long for the Dutchmen to open the scoring. On what seemed like an innocent shot from the left wing, Carr’s shot eluded the glove of goalie Eric Mihalik 1:35 into the game.
“Dan Carr’s first goal was just
doing what we asked him to do, just get pucks to the net and good things will happen,” Bennett said. “He was a big horse out there tonight.”
Carr’s second goal was the backbreaker.
Colgate was down, 3-1, and on a power play when Matt Hatch was called for boarding at 2:38 of the third period. But Welsh forced a turnover in the Raiders’ zone. He got the puck to Carr on his right. Carr skated hard to the net and lofted a backhander over a sprawling Mihalik at 3:39 to make it a three-goal Dutchmen lead.
“It was a great play Jeremy made on the forecheck,” Carr said. “He’s been unbelievable on that the whole year. It was a great steal by him. I came down, and the whole net was open.”
Welsh ended Mihalik’s night with 12:41 left in the game. He was to the left of the net when the rebound of a Jooris shot came to him, and he put it into the net for his 24th goal of the season. It’s the most goals in a season by a Union Division I player, topping the record of 23 set by Mario Valery-Trabucco.
Jooris, who assisted on Carr’s first goal and Shawn Stuart’s goal with 1:41 left in the game, got his goal on the Dutchmen’s first power play of the game.
Nineteen seconds after Colgate was called for too many men on the ice, Mat Bodie skated behind the net, and passed the puck out to Jooris, who one-timed it past Mihalik.
“It was a nice play by Mat,” Jooris said. “He’s got that vision. I thought he was looking me off the whole way. He didn’t look at me once, but he’s got those eyes in the back of his head. He saw me, and I was able to put it in.”
The Dutchmen did a good job of limiting the Raiders’ top line of center Chris Wagner, left winger Joe Wilson and right winger Austin Smith. The trio did a goal 26 seconds into the second period, when Smith sent a pass to Wagner at the net. His shot was stopped by goalie Troy Grosenick, but Wilson put home the rebound.
“They are a very good hockey team,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “They’re clearly deserving of their ranking nationally. They’re one of the best teams in the country. They’re extremely well coached.”
Colgate 0 1 1 — 2
Union 2 1 3 — 6
First Period — 1, Union, Carr 17 (Jooris), 1:35. 2, Union, Novak 8, 13:11. Penalty — Forgaard, Uni (interference), 15:52.
Second Period — 3, Colgate, Wilson 10 (Wagner, Smith), :26. 4, Union, Jooris 6 (M. Bodie, Welsh), 13:57 (pp). Penalties — Coburn, Uni (interference), 4:51; Colgate bench, served by Rivellini (too many men), 13:38; Nasca, Col (roughing), 16:48; M. Bodie, Uni (roughing), 16:48.
Third Period — 5, Union, Carr 18 (Welsh), 3:39 (sh). 6, Union, Welsh 24 (Jooris), 7:19. 7, Colgate, Firman 7, 13:20. 8, Union, Stuart 1 (Jooris, Hatch), 18:19. Penalties — Hatch, Uni (boarding), 2:38; Nasca, Col (roughing), 7:49; K. Bodie, Uni (interference), 7:49; Wagner, Col (roughing), 8:25
Shots on Goal — Colgate 12-13-5 — 30. Union 9-12-17 — 38.
Power-play opportunities — Colgate 0 of 3; Union 1 of 2.
Goalies — Colgate, Mihalik 14-12-2 (29 shots-24 saves), Evin (7:19 third, 9-8). Union, Grosenick 19-5-3 (30-28).
T — 2:17.
Referees — Peter Feola, Scott Whittemore. Linesmen — Glen Cooke, Richard Patry.